Lisa Schopf’s Remarks to the Graduates
June 22, 2021 by
This is a moment filled with nostalgia, appreciation, reflection, celebration, accomplishment, and anticipation for all that is yet to come. For me, it is also a moment in which I am feeling a sense of urgency as I want to be sure to tell you all I want you to know and hold onto before you go. It’s been such a gift to have had the chance to speak with you almost daily these past three years. And now, your teachers and I won’t have that regular, everyday opportunity any more. This concerned me until I remembered a very significant comment a parent of a former student once told me. She said that years after her son was in my class he would still ask, “What would Mrs. Schopf say” when reviewing his own writing. This comment opened a world of possibility for me. While I may not always be able to be your guide and teacher, I can be the voice inside your head. I can leave you with some words that capture what we have tried to impart to you over your years at Milton and you can replay those words in your head as needed. And then I thought of an even better way to leave you with lasting inspiration. I would tie my words to some of the most impactful works of literature I have encountered so if you need inspiration and perhaps can’t remember exactly what I have said here today, you could just read one of these books and the lessons and messages would all come back. I focused on four inspirational messages and the words from literature that best set forth those lessons. You may not have read all of these books and you may think some are books that are more for younger children. But they hold wisdom that can carry you through a lifetime.
In the pages of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, the kind and giving spider offers a key lesson and perspective to Wilbur the pig: “Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy — this lovely world, these precious days…” The world is lovely and the days are precious. And as you know, there will be times when that does not seem so. But living with an appreciation for both the smaller and bigger blessings and gifts helps us, and it is a choice we can make. Hakarat hatov, appreciating the good, as you have heard me speak about countless times, is a mindset that sets you on a path of happiness and generosity of spirit. There will be challenging times, but there is what to be gained and to appreciate even in those moments. And then, of course, as Charlotte said, winter will pass and the ice will melt. You have the strength to see the good as you navigate the varying terrain of life and the capacity to patiently and resiliently move forward until the warm wind blows again.
In The Little Prince, the young boy from another planet shares what he has learned. He says, “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Caring about others, following the values that touch your soul, and connecting with the people in your lives are your heart’s way of steering you to what really matters. The eye sees what is and the heart sees what can be. I hope you let love for others, empathy, caring, and understanding guide you always.
In The Phantom Tollbooth, young Milo completes a quest and then only after he has done it, he finds out that the journey was impossible. He is told, “So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.” And that is very true. When you are younger and someone asks you what you want to be or what kind of house you want to live in, the kinds of aspirations you might describe are limitless, propelled by the boundless possibility that children oftentimes embrace. Then we get older and we get what people may call wiser but we also get more limited in some ways. And perhaps that’s realistic. But it is also not always necessary. There is tremendous possibility in each of you and in the world that you are still just beginning to discover. Embrace that possibility and if someone ever tells you that something is impossible, pause a moment before simply accepting that. Many great things that were impossible are now realities in our world. You may be the next person to accomplish a task, to make a discovery, and to realize a dream that until you did it others would have said was impossible. So don’t limit yourself by throwing up your hands and lamenting that something is difficult to do; instead roll up your sleeves and ask, “How can I get this done?”
In The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak describes the protagonist’s evolving relationship with words and books: “When she came to write her story, she would wonder when the books and the words started to mean not just something, but everything.” As all of your teachers have taught you, words have power. The words we use can open up new vistas, connect us to new people, and bring about new possibilities. Be intentional about your words; they can shape your perspective and your future. You are all in the midst of writing your own stories, filled with words, actions, emotions, drama, and adventure. We hope you’ve gained a sense of your own power and possibility here at Milton so you continue to craft your stories with conviction and passion, humility and kindness. Who knows what you may accomplish, but as the experienced readers you are, you know, the greatness of a story is not in the culminating accomplishments that may come at the end; a story’s beauty is contained in all the developments that come about as the plot unfolds. Enjoy that journey. As the protagonists and authors of your own stories, please hold onto what you gained here – and know that we care so deeply for each of you and wish you the very best of all that life has to offer.
Congratulations to all our graduates, and their families and friends. Thank you to all of the teachers who guided, taught, and inspired our students. Thank you to our families for supporting us and entrusting your children with us. And thank you to our graduates for adding light and joy to every day!